Talking proper


There’s been an outbreak of pearl clutching in the British nationalist press in Scotland over the past few days. Not because David Mundell and Ruth Davidson have unilaterally ripped up the Scottish Claim of Right and taken it upon themselves to rewrite the political understanding of Scotland’s place within the UK. They’re perfectly fine with that. No, what’s got them worked up into a frothing lather is an off the cuff comment from a former SNP MSP about Scotland’s “proper languages”, and a sign held up outside the SNP conference by a pair of extremists who have no influence or support within the wider independence movement.

This is, let us not forget, the same British nationalist media which is constantly accusing the SNP of grievance mongering. And to be fair they must know what grievance mongering is, because they’re always doing it themselves. In fact they put the SNP and everyone else in Scotland to shame.

Let’s start with Sean Clerkin’s sign. Sean is a well known fringe figure in the Scottish independence movement who is most notable for his ability to annoy people and to be counter-productive. He has now, by all accounts, even fallen out with the Scottish Resistance, that fringe group which specialises in annoying people and being counter-productive. Sean and one of his pals stood on the pavement outside the SNP conference in Edinburgh last weekend bearing a sign saying “England get out of Scotland”. This came as a surprise to most of us with even a basic grasp of geography, who understand that England isn’t in Scotland. However Sean’s banner was widely perceived as being an expression of anti-English racism. It should be pointed out here that Scottish Resistance disavowed the banner too.

The banner and its message had no more to do with the SNP and had no more support amongst the wider indepenence movement than did the other individuals standing on the pavement alongside Sean, who were carrying placards telling us that the End Is Nigh – and they weren’t referring to Westminster rule in Scotland or even the climate emergency. However that didn’t stop the banner being widely cited on social media as yet another example of how vile and anti-English the entire independence movement is.

What the media wasn’t so keen to publicise was the response from the SNP and the wider independence movement to Sean’s banner, which was to stand in front of it, blocking the sight of it with a banner from English Scots for Yes and standing in solidarity with English people who have chosen to make their lives in Scotland. They didn’t mention the delegates and SNP members who came out to show their solidarity with English Scots. That was the proper independence movement in action, but it was Sean’s banner that got the media attention.

Once again, the entire independence movement is judged, convicted, and condemned by the behaviour of an fringe individual who is disavowed by the vast majority and has no place in the mainstream. Yet those same British nationalists who do the condemning react with fury if you suggest that opponents of independence take responsibility for the real fascists, racists, islamophobes, anti-semites, and sectarian bigots who infest the ranks of unionism in far larger numbers. How very dare you imply that those creatures have anything to do with them. But that’s precisely what they do to supporters of independence.

At the launch of Voices for Scotland, Dave Thomson who was formerly an SNP MSP for the Highlands, spoke in Gaelic and Scots and then apologised to “those who do not have the two proper languages of Scotland.” Cue an outbreak of harrumphery, humbug, and claims of victimisation from the British nationalist media. Because, as we all know, the most discriminated against people in all of Scotland are white heterosexual middle class English speaking monoglots who think Ruth Davidson is doing a terribly good job. Help help, we’re being oppressed for our BBC weather announcer accents.

Actually Dave was correct, at least in one definition of the word proper. The word proper has a number of definitions, one of which is “belonging or relating exclusively or distinctively to; particular to”. So for example you can say that the elephants with the big ears are proper to Africa, even though the elephant in front of you is in Edinburgh zoo. Likewise cruel and heartless tyrants who defend the rape clause are proper to the Conservative party.

In one important sense, Gaelic and Scots are Scotland’s proper languages. They are exclusively or distinctively Scottish in a way that English is not. Outwith Scotland, Gaelic and Scots are used only by communities which are of Scottish origin. English is a world language used by millions of people all over the globe, the vast majority of whom have no connections with Scotland of any description. If you hear someone speaking Gaelic or Scots, you can be confident that it is a virtual certainty that person is either Scottish or has a close association with Scotland. A person speaking English can potentially come from any one of dozens of countries across the globe.

However the media chose to focus on another definition, “genuine or real”. A definition which, interestingly enough, is according to several dictionaries proper only to British English and isn’t characteristic of other varieties of the language. See what I did there? They then took Dave’s words to imply that English wasn’t a “proper” language of Scotland in the sense that he was saying that English isn’t really a Scottish language and by extension those who speak only English aren’t really Scots. Which wasn’t what he said at all. But hey, anything to manufacture a grievance and tar the entire independence movement with the slur of anti-English racism.

In order to ensure that there is no doubt for any British nationalists in search of something to feel victimised by – which would be their specialist subject on Mastermind – of course English is a genuine, real, and authentic language of Scotland, and of course people in Scotland who speak only English are real, authentic, and genuine Scots. English is one of Scotland’s three national languages, and the only one which is current outwith Scotland as well as within it. There is even a distinctively Scottish variety of standard English which is well described in the linguistics literature. Scottish Standard English is proper to Scotland in the exclusive sense of the word proper.

There is an immense quantity of Scottish literature in English, a vast quantity of historical documentation. You cannot understand modern Scotland without understanding English. It shouldn’t need to be repeated and emphasised that of course English is a national language of Scotland and that those who use it are just as Scottish as Scots speakers or Gaelic speakers, but then we shouldn’t really need to keep stating the obvious because the press in this country is mendacious. But that’s where we are.

I wouldn’t mind the accusations from the British nationalist press, nor the hand-wringing opinion pieces from certain independence supporters which always follow in the wake of such incidents, if there was a similar focus on the behaviour and comments of opponents of independence and an equal willingness to hold the mainstream of opposition to independence to account for the vile elements on its extreme. Those anguished articles telling us to get our house in order, written by independence supporters and published in the anti-independence press, may by themselves make reasonable points and be well-intentioned, but they reinforce the perception that it’s only one side of Scotland’s constitutional debate which has a problem.

Problems of extremism, of bad behaviour, of fringe individuals with reprehensible views, are not confined to the independence movement. They exist in greater numbers amongst opponents of independence. Thousands march in support of the sectarianism of the Orange Order, and the Conservative party says nothing. The best that some anti-English racist group could manage would be a handful of people, and they would certainly be condemned by the SNP and the mainstream independence movement.

However instead we get a blatant double standard, we are led to believe that it’s the SNP, the Greens, and the independence movement as a whole which must take action to counter the extremists on the fringes of the movement, but opponents of independence need to take no responsibility whatsover for the Orange Order, Tommy Robinson, Ukip, Britain First, Nazi salute dog guy, or the myriad of other grotesques who infest the extremes of British nationalism.

So yes, we must condemn, disavow, and disassociate ourselves from political extremists, from racism, from bigotry. But’s let’s talk properly about it. And that means that opponents of independence must get their own house in order if they want to condemn us.

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16 comments on “Talking proper

  1. Welsh Sion says:


    Gavin Williamson, ex-Defence Secretary, is going to be spending some more time with his tarantula after May “had “lost confidence in his ability to serve”.

    Make your own web jokes, here.

  2. steelewires says:

    I grew up in a family that spoke the Lanarkshire dialect of Scots. I and most of my fellow pupils were told not to speak it because it was not proper English. If someone spoke it in class he was punished for being cheeky. I was ashamed of the language spoken by my mother and her parents.

    There we had the use of “proper” to oppress.

    This shaming of our national languages, other than English, is due to the Union This day, the 1st of May, however, is our real SHAME DAY. On this date in 1707 the Scottish Parliament acted on its betrayal of Scotland and its people on January 16th of that year when it voted to unite with the English Parliament. The Act came into effect on May 1st.

    ” The Treaty of Union was not a magnanimous, indeed unprecedented, act of altruism in which England rescued an impoverished Scotland – as it has sometimes been portrayed.”

    “Scottish representation was less than that of Cornwall. In effect, the English parliament became the British parliament with marginal readjustment to accommodate Scottish interests.”

    “Disaffection within Scotland towards the Treaty of 1707 was soon enhanced by breaches in both the spirit and letter of the union and by delays in honouring fiscal inducement.

    Growing resentment about the running of Scotland led to a concerted effort by Scottish politicians at Westminster to terminate the Treaty, which lost narrowly in the lords by four proxy votes in 1713.

    The major beneficiaries of political disaffection were undoubtedly the Jacobites, who mounted two serious challenges to the Union in 1715 and 1745.

    With the vanquishing of Jacobitism at Culloden, British national identity was promoted assiduously in Scotland, portrayed as patriotism and prosperity imbued by a common commitment to liberty and Protestantism.”

    BBC – History – British History in depth: Acts of Union: The creation of the United Kingdom

    • I used to work on a Lanarkshire farm during my school holidays in 1979-80 where the old Lanarkshire Scots was spoken. I loved it and though I’ve not heard it spoken in thirty years I still fondly remember it.
      We were only 12 miles from the centre of Glasgow too!

  3. As per Paul, on the money. Brilliant.
    I had my say on, ‘I’m a Yes Voter,but’ pseudo Scots , on the previous thread.

    It is not enough to argue that one has to eat, to explain following your US’ employer’s line and indeed, diktat, and write vacuous rubbish about us Nats being rude, and demanding that we be polite to Right Wing fascists who would destroy Scotland with a plummy voice threat of retribution if we dare contemplate breaking up their ‘precious’ Union.

    Our Dead Tree Scrolls have lost it completely.
    Looking forward to the MSM treatment of the week end’s AUOB Gathering.

  4. “There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders.. I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”
    Adolf Eichmann 1960

  5. Cubby says:

    What’s worse than a grievance mongering Brutish Nationalist. Answer – a phoney independence supporter trying to undermine the Yes movement.

  6. Golfnut says:

    I read a comment sometime ago that classified the queens english as ‘ pidgin Germanic ‘. I have to admit I had a little titter to myself at such a blasphemous designation.

    • Indeed. It’s such a garbled and distorted syntax that it’s occasionally unrecognisable from standard English! RP gone mad! 😂😂😂

      • Welsh Sion says:

        Heck, the Queen doesn’t speak the Queen’s English, either. She hasn’t spoken like that for many years.

        Older readers/listeners (like me) will note that she used to say things like ‘bed’ (for ‘bad’) and ‘to speak awv’ but now says, ‘to speak ov’ (= ‘of’) and much else besides.

        Frightfully common, ain’t ya, yer Majesty? Speakin’ like wot a pleb duz, innit?

      • Golfnut says:

        Indeed Max and Welsh Sion, makes guid Scots sound proper.

  7. Selkie says:

    I recall, as a six year old in 1961, moving from Fife to Banffshire and moving from a Fifer accent to Doric.learning another language I was treated as if I came from the moon!

  8. Welsh Sion says:

    Thanks to Selkie for reminding me 😉

    I’ll leave this here …

    32. (of 60.)


    John’s early life had been quite eventful up to the age of nine, and looking back on it, he considered the blessings he had derived from and disadvantages that he had suffered during that time – not least because of his aptitude for languages and the constant reminder of his ‘burden of nationality.’

    John was born into a bilingual English-French family in Sussex; considered by many to be the heart of English speaking England. His parents were mother tongue English speakers, but owing to the fact that both of them had spent many years previously working in France, they had also picked up a considerable amount of French too.

    When John was around 3 years old both his parents lost their jobs in England. They decided then as a family that a new venture could be made for themselves in France. John’s mother and father reckoned they could very easily adapt themselves to the local conditions and that John himself, once he entered the local école primaire would become as bilingual as they were.
    At that time, there was a shortage of workers who could tend the local vineyard in Saint-Marc-l’Eglise, a little village in the heart of the south eastern French countryside. John’s parents applied for jobs, and were much surprised to learn by return of post that their candidatures had been accepted.

    Once the necessary employment paperwork had been filled in, the family were found accommodation by the vineyard owner and they settled down. John, at that time a monoglot English speaker, was then sent to the école primaire, and everyone seemed to be very happy.
    His parents decided that his mother would speak to him only in French, whilst to maintain his English, John’s father would converse with the boy only in that language. It was doubly advantageous that in his spare time, the male adult also composed children’s stories in English which he would present to his son in both manuscript and cassette tape format; thus enabling the boy to keep his mother tongue and strengthen both his reading and listening skills in that language.

    Now it must be imagined that Saint-Marc-l’Eglise was a small, rural commune – one so indicative of the French countryside. A few houses, the church, the school, everyone knowing everyone else, quiet and tranquil, with a population of barely 300 and obviously, thoroughly and completely French speaking, that was Saint-Marc-l’Eglise. It was into this society that John’s family – les anglais – had come and they were soon to find out that not everyone was welcoming.

    As is often the case, it is the weakest of a grouping which can be identified first. In this case, it was John. First of all, it was very subtle. John and his family were strict vegetarians. To a rural community used to farms and livestock this behaviour was at best, strange; at worst, highly irregular and marked off a distinction immediately between the in-comers and the local population.

    To accommodate the problem, a simple application of uniformity and harmonisation was applied – John would have meat in his school dinner like the rest of the children, or he could go hungry until going home time. Being a mere pawn in this process and not wishing to appear awkward to his hosts, John swallowed both his pride and his carnivorous repasts.

    It also soon became apparent, not least because of the influences of languages and literature back home that John was destined to became a thorough and balanced English-French bilingual. There is also the scientifically proven fact that youngsters at a very early age take in, sponge like, information, facts and yes, language very early on, with seemingly no trouble at all. They are naturally curious in any case and will soak up these things and become mini-walking and talking encyclopaedias in no time. It will be borne in mind that all education at the école primaire in Saint-Marc-l’Eglise was through the medium of French – no concession was made to John in that he knew no French at all prior to entry. And he was never to be taught anything through the medium of English either, of course. All of his classmates were already native speakers of French, and were thereby considered (and indeed considered themselves, in the normal, French chauvin fashion) to be more advantaged and superior to John.

    What they were soon to find out – and it came as an unpleasant shock to them all – was that John’s French soon outstripped theirs. The insults towards les rosbifs – such name calling being highly ironic, considering their initial vegetarianism – escalated; the bullying became more severe. One young French boy spoke with delight of his plan to throw a rotten tomato at John’s father’s face and crowed to his friends that he was just waiting his chance to effect it. (As it turned out, this threat was never put into action, as John’s family were to move on a couple of years later).

    The most shocking behaviour however may be considered the attitude of Madame l’Institutrice of the école primaire at Saint-Marc-l’Eglise. Not only was she unable (or unwilling) to discipline her charges for their behaviour towards le petit étranger, but she decided on a new approach to her syllabus. It was evident that the native camarades de classe were falling behind in the development of their mother tongue – or maybe they were going at the usual pace of learning as any other native speaker – whilst John, l’immigré, le petit anglais, was streaking ahead. There had to be a way to stop him, and ensure that the others in the class did not lose their in-built French advantage – national and linguistic pride were at stake, and she, Madame l’Institutrice had the power to defend the integrity of both the French language and the French nation.

    She then hit upon the following plan: John would be shunted off to a classroom by himself where he was permitted colouring pencils and a sheet of blank paper. He was then given a picture of a yacht sailing into a scarlet sunset and was ordered to reproduce this on his blank piece of paper. If he had not completed this exercise by the end of the day, he was to take it home and complete it there. In the meantime, John’s monoglot French camarades de classe would receive further and remedial education in their native language, until they reached John’s level of proficiency in their own language. This procedure continued for some months, with John returning his completed copy of the picture on a daily basis.

    John’s parents felt completely impotent in their new environment – they were les nouveaux-venus and all the cards seemed to be stacked in the school’s and Madame l’Institutrice’s favour. There seemed little hope in appealing to the Préfet or the Réctorat: they would surely side with their compatriots against les rosbifs and l’ennemi héréditaire, in any case. John and his family would just have to stick it out.

    And indeed, that is what they did, for the next two years or so – until a more lucrative job offer to John’s family took them to another village in the south east of France and John to a different école primaire.

    The constant identifier of being l’étranger would never leave John and he would be marked by these experiences from his formative years. His final grandparent – his father’s mother – passed away when he was almost 9 years old, and the family returned home to England in the expectation of being received back into their own community and acknowledged as being finally ‘at home.’ Events in the future years would prove how mistaken a belief this was too…

    Parables for the New Politics

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